• Jack Fleming

Ego is The Enemy — 5 Questions to Better Your Coaching



I just finished reading Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday, one of my favourite writers. The book is filled with brilliant examples across all topics and history, about where ego can block us from our true path. While it has little to do with sports, it has everything to do with how we coach. Here are some of my take away questions from the book.

Ego is defined as —

“An unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition.” — Ryan Holiday

1. Do you talk too much?

Holiday says “the only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other.”

The battle of every coach, are we projecting our voice to give value or to make it about us? Personally the more knowledge I have gained through study of the game, the more particular it can make me technique coaching. Never forget that the lord and master of learning, is repetition.


We learn by doing, or what is also known as experiential learning — identify that your practice is about the athletes DOING as much as possible. Chris Oliver from Basketball Immersion often says that we need to stop delivering coaching clinics to our players. I have tried to ask this question before I stop a drill: Is this going to move the needle in the way of improving the athletes, or is this just me projecting my ego? How can I do it quickly, without all the emotion and blah blah? I still struggle with this battle, but try to be in constant self evaluation to make practice more efficient.


2. Are you a know-it-all or a learn-it-all?

One of Holiday’s favourite quotes that I have tried to adopt to my life is by stoic philosopher Epictetus — “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

As we learn more and more, we must not let our ego block us by telling us we don’t need to improve. Do not stop asking questions, do not stop going to clinics, do not stop learning the game because the opportunities in an information age are endless. Pretence of knowledge is a dangerous vice, however the power of a student mindset places the ego in someone else’s hands. Last year I read 40 books in the final six months of the year, because I know as a young coach I do not have anywhere near the experience to be where I want to go. I understand the learning never stops, that the great ones have never truly arrived.


The Power of Mentors

The most expensive school is the school of experience, so if you can have a mentor that has already been through the experience it can save you making those mistakes yourself. Here are the questions you need to ask about your own mentor:


- Have they been where you are right now?

- Have they been where you want to go?

- Do they have the same morals and ethics as you?


In my own context, I would say I have 4–5 people I trust and reach out to but my main mentor is Alan Mcaughtry. Why is the right person for me?

- He has been a club coach, an NITP coach, a private school coach (where I am right now)

- He has head coached multiple Vic Metro teams, been on Australian junior staffs and coached in semi-pro leagues (the path I want to go)

- He coaches for the athletes, is a learn it all and a man of generosity and integrity.


3. Are you delegating enough? Or are you a control freak?

Those micromanagers we all know, sometimes live with and work who do not delegate — will ultimately lose the trust of their team members. Are you giving power to your players within the game, or are you controlling every pass? Delegation is trust, when you trust your players they can truly play at their best.


Something which I find challenging, but learned well from my U16 Vic Metro head coach Dom Linossier. In the back end of the 3rd quarter New South Wales Country went on an 11–0 run against us, while my body was almost jumping from my seat as an assistant coach to call timeout he trusted his players. We hit back to back three’s and our lead settled and the game was done, amazing. Whatever your style may be — delegate responsibility to your assistant coaches, your players, your managers during practice and games. It might not be playing through a time out, but it might be putting your assistant in charge of player development or let your captain lead the warm up. This will relish the true essence of your team, and allow you to focus on your super power. Sometimes our ego can burn us out because we think we have to do everything, when quite the opposite is the case.


4. Are you living in reality?

Holiday preaches that “the world will show you the truth but nobody can force you to accept it. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in those broken places, but those who will not break it kills.” After practice and games, are you spending time on asking others or yourself the following:


1. What did I do well?

2. What needed to be improved?

3. How can I improve that tomorrow?


Jeff Van Gundy said “If you’re coaching every day, you should be getting better if you’re self evaluating and have people around you telling the truth.”


After a loss, it is easy to blame the players but alternatively we should ask ourselves — what adjustments would have helped my team? Where did I slip up? Did I adequately prepare my group at practice?

Recently I coached my junior team, we were down by 4 when I called a timeout with 18 seconds left. I ran a play my team had not practiced before, for a 3. We turned it over on the inbound, and initially I sent blame towards he who inbounded the ball.


In reflection after the game I recognised the following mistakes:

- I had the wrong person inbounding the ball.

- I ran a play my team is not familiar with.


While those mistakes can be hard to admit, we must put our ego aside and live in reality. Lesson learned, have a designated in bounder for all end of game situations and stick to the late game plays our team has practiced and can execute really well.


5. Are you actually doing the work?

Martial art teacher Danielle Bolelli explained that training was like sweeping the floor. “Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep. The same is true for ego. You would be stunned at what kind of damage dust and dirt can do over time. And how quickly it accumulates and becomes utterly unmanageable.” In the words of the Navy SEAL you must ‘earn your trident’ everyday. Put in the hours, watch film, get out on the floor and do what you do best. It is far important to focus on doing something than trying to be something, Holiday states that “in reality there’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done.”

While I wrote this blog to share information which I know can help, I also am aware it means nothing if I am not out there daily coaching, doing the work and improving on my craft.

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